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Visible Tattoos and Recidivism, the Right to a Speedy Trial, Prop 47, and the Right to Remain Silent

October 6th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

STUDY: VISIBLE INK ON RELEASED INMATES = HARDER TIME FINDING EMPLOYMENT AND FASTER RETURN TO INCARCERATION

Former inmates who have visible tattoos—on their face, head, neck, or hands—are re-incarcerated nearly two years earlier than ex-inmates with visible tattoos elsewhere on their body, according to a recent study authored by Kaitlyn Harger of West Virginia University. And, inmates without tattoos made it on the outside an average of 3.4 years longer than inmates with tattoos.

Harger used data on a sample of inmates exiting and entering Florida Dept. of Corrections facilities between 2008-2010, and accounted for variables like gender, age, and previous offenses.

Here’s the report‘s abstract:

This study examines whether tattoo visibility affects recidivism length of ex-offenders. Conventional wisdom suggests that visible tattoos may negatively influence employment outcomes. Additionally, research on recidivism argues that employment post-release is a main determinant of reductions in recidivism. Taken together, these two bodies of literature suggest there may be a relationship between tattoos visible in the workplace and recidivism of released inmates.

Using data from the Florida Department of Corrections, I estimate a log-logistic survival model and compare estimated survival length for inmates with and without visible tattoos. The findings suggest that inmates with visible tattoos return to incarceration faster than those without tattoos or with tattoos easily hidden by clothing.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Fr. Greg Boyle of Homeboy Industries often tells a story of the guy who came into his office shortly after his release from prison saying he really needed helping getting a job, that he’d struck out on everything for which he’d applied. Greg looked at the former gang member, and took in the devil horns tattooed prominently on his forehead and said, “Uh, yeah, let’s put our heads together and see if we can figure this problem out.”

Clearly McDonalds was not going to hire the recently released man, as is, to ask “Would you like fries with that?”

Then there was the former homeboy I knew well, a guy nick-named Curly who was having similar problems getting a job when he got out of prison. Bright, good-hearted and personable, Curly—whose mother and dad were both heroin addicts—had struggled with drug addiction for much of his teenage years and adulthood. But now he wanted very much to reboot his life. I looked at him and noted that he had no really onerous tattoos visible. Then I noticed he was holding his eyes peculiarly wide open, without blinking, and I became suspicious.

“Blink,” I said.

And he did. I saw that on one eyelid he had the word FUCK tattooed, on the other eyelid: YOU.

“What were you thinking?!!” I moaned before I could stop myself.

Curly admitted he was a man in need of tattoo removal services. With the offending words removed, his job search went far better.

Many men remove visible tattoos, not just for jobs, but for their kids, who are embarrassed by their dad’s skin markings, and also as a symbol of their personal change, a way of stating, “homie don’t play that anymore….”

So are we surprised at these figures? Not at all. But are we glad that the research supports what common sense could tell anybody. Yes. And hopefully policy and programs will follow after.


TEEN WAITED FOR TRIAL IN SOLITARY FOR ALMOST THREE YEARS ON CHARGES ULTIMATELY DISMISSED

In 2010, 16-year-old Kalief Browder was arrested for allegedly stealing a backpack that contained a debit card, a credit card, some electronics, and $700. Kalief was not found to have the backpack, but the robbery victim identified him as the thief, and Kalief was hauled away to Rikers Island to await trial.

Kalief’s case was delayed for three years for various reasons, one of which was because the prosecutor’s assigned assistant was on vacation. And although the case against Kalief was eventually dismissed, Kalief spent nearly the entire three years of his incarceration in solitary confinement, and the damage was already done. Kalief attempted suicide twice while in isolation, and twice more after his release, landing him in the psychiatric ward. (Last week, Rikers vowed to end solitary confinement of 16 and 17-year-olds.)

Kalief now has a lawsuit against the city, the NYPD, the DA responsible for his case, and the NYC Department of Correction.

The New Yorker’s Jennifer Gonnerman has Kalief’s heartbreaking story (it’s quite long, but make sure to read the whole thing). Here are some clips:

In the early hours of Saturday, May 15, 2010, ten days before his seventeenth birthday, Kalief Browder and a friend were returning home from a party in the Belmont section of the Bronx. They walked along Arthur Avenue, the main street of Little Italy, past bakeries and cafés with their metal shutters pulled down for the night. As they passed East 186th Street, Browder saw a police car driving toward them. More squad cars arrived, and soon Browder and his friend found themselves squinting in the glare of a police spotlight. An officer said that a man had just reported that they had robbed him. “I didn’t rob anybody,” Browder replied. “You can check my pockets.”

The officers searched him and his friend but found nothing. As Browder recalls, one of the officers walked back to his car, where the alleged victim was, and returned with a new story: the man said that they had robbed him not that night but two weeks earlier. The police handcuffed the teens and pressed them into the back of a squad car. “What am I being charged for?” Browder asked. “I didn’t do anything!” He remembers an officer telling them, “We’re just going to take you to the precinct. Most likely you can go home.” Browder whispered to his friend, “Are you sure you didn’t do anything?” His friend insisted that he hadn’t.

At the Forty-eighth Precinct, the pair were fingerprinted and locked in a holding cell. A few hours later, when an officer opened the door, Browder jumped up: “I can leave now?” Instead, the teens were taken to Central Booking at the Bronx County Criminal Court.

Browder had already had a few run-ins with the police, including an incident eight months earlier, when an officer reported seeing him take a delivery truck for a joyride and crash into a parked car. Browder was charged with grand larceny. He told me that his friends drove the truck and that he had only watched, but he figured that he had no defense, and so he pleaded guilty. The judge gave him probation and “youthful offender” status, which insured that he wouldn’t have a criminal record.

Late on Saturday, seventeen hours after the police picked Browder up, an officer and a prosecutor interrogated him, and he again maintained his innocence. The next day, he was led into a courtroom, where he learned that he had been charged with robbery, grand larceny, and assault. The judge released his friend, permitting him to remain free while the case moved through the courts. But, because Browder was still on probation, the judge ordered him to be held and set bail at three thousand dollars. The amount was out of reach for his family, and soon Browder found himself aboard a Department of Correction bus. He fought back panic, he told me later. Staring through the grating on the bus window, he watched the Bronx disappear. Soon, there was water on either side as the bus made its way across a long, narrow bridge to Rikers Island.

[BIG SNIP]

Browder was losing weight. “Several times when I visited him, he said, ‘They’re not feeding me,’ ” the brother told me. “He definitely looked really skinny.” In solitary, food arrived through a slot in the cell door three times a day. For a growing teen-ager, the portions were never big enough, and in solitary Browder couldn’t supplement the rations with snacks bought at the commissary. He took to begging the officers for leftovers: “Can I get that bread?” Sometimes they would slip him an extra slice or two; often, they refused.

Browder’s brother also noticed a growing tendency toward despair. When Browder talked about his case, he was “strong, adamant: ‘No, they can’t do this to me!’ ” But, when the conversation turned to life in jail, “it’s a totally different personality, which is depressed. He’s, like, ‘I don’t know how long I can take this.’ ”

Browder got out of the Bing in the fall of 2011, but by the end of the year he was back—after yet another fight, he says. On the night of February 8, 2012—his six-hundred-and-thirty-fourth day on Rikers—he said to himself, “I can’t take it anymore. I give up.” That night, he tore his bedsheet into strips, tied them together to make a noose, attached it to the light fixture, and tried to hang himself. He was taken to the clinic, then returned to solitary. Browder told me that his sheets, magazines, and clothes were removed—everything except his white plastic bucket.

On February 17th, he was shuttled to the courthouse once again, but this time he was not brought up from the court pen in time to hear his case called. (“I’ll waive his appearance for today’s purposes,” his lawyer told the judge.) For more than a year, he had heard various excuses about why his trial had to be delayed, among them that the prosecutor assigned to the case was on trial elsewhere, was on jury duty, or, as he once told the judge, had “conflicts in my schedule.” If Browder had been in the courtroom on this day, he would have heard a prosecutor offer a new excuse: “Your Honor, the assigned assistant is currently on vacation.” The prosecutor asked for a five-day adjournment; Browder’s lawyer requested March 16th, and the judge scheduled the next court date for then.

The following night, in his solitary cell on Rikers, Browder shattered his plastic bucket by stomping on it, then picked up a piece, sharpened it, and began sawing his wrist. He was stopped after an officer saw him through the cell window and intervened.


PROP 47: SUPPORTERS SAY WILL LOWER PRISON POP, SAVE $$; OPPONENTS SAY LETS OFFENDERS OFF EASY

Proposition 47 (which would reduce certain low-level drug and property offenses from felonies to misdemeanors) is a weighty piece of legislation with strong proponents and opponents, so we will continue to inform readers on this initiative until November. (Previous posts here, and here.)

Backers say the legislation, authored by retired SD Police Chief Bill Lansdowne and SF District Attorney George Gascón, would save hundreds of millions while lowering the outrageous prison population by redirecting offenders to treatment, probation, and shorter jail stints, instead of prison. Opponents, which include San Diego’s current police chief, sheriff, and DA, say that reducing these crimes to misdemeanors will nix the idea of consequences as a crime deterrent—that people will be able to keep committing these misdemeanors. Opponents also say that the legislation will put more of a burden on counties already strained by realignment.

U-T San Diego’s Kristina Davis has more on Prop 47. Here are some clips:

Lansdowne, with nearly 50 years in law enforcement behind him, said his time as police chief of Richmond in the Bay Area in the mid-90s left a strong impression on him. “I learned a lot about crime and poverty and the need to reach out and give people opportunity to rehabilitate themselves,” he said. “I’ve seen so many homeless people in and out of jail, mentally ill addicted to drugs and they can’t get any help in the process. … There’s more to this. Just to say it’s numbers and take the people out of it is a terrible mistake.”

Supporter Stephen Downing, a retired former deputy chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, called the current tough-on-crime justice system a “war on the people” that unfairly penalizes minorities. More than half the nation’s prison population is black or Hispanic, and many are young, male and poorly educated, with substance abuse and mental health issues, according to The National Academy of Sciences, which issued a report this year on incarceration rates. The discrepancy is higher in California, where 70 percent of prison inmates are black or Hispanic.

[SNIP]

Critics say the law lacks incentives. With lighter punishments, and nothing to punish repeat offenses, what’s to stop someone from continuing to commit these misdemeanors, they ask.

[District Attorney Bonnie] Dumanis points to the slew of measures already in place to send addicts to treatment, including the drug court she started in 1996, which closely monitors addicts’ progress under the threat of jail or prison.

“What we found with drug court is that coerced treatment works. When you take the teeth out of any of these drug laws and have people pushing boundaries … there’s nothing to stop them, so it’s really enabling them,” Dumanis said.


WHEN PRE-MIRANDA RIGHTS SILENCE IS USED AGAINST YOU

People arrested in the United States technically have the right to remain silent, but unless they actually say aloud that they are invoking their 5th Amendment rights, it’s not so simple. Thanks to several California and US Supreme Court decisions, silence during police questioning can be used against a defendant in court.

KPCC’s Emily Green has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Courts have found suspects don’t have to be read their rights upon arrest, but only right before they are interrogated. And there can be a long lag time between the two.

In the case of Richard Tom, for example, he was in custody for two hours before he was read his rights. Earlier this year, the California Supreme Court ruled in Tom’s case, and said his silence at the scene of the accident could be used against him.

“The California Supreme Court has left us in a no-win situation, where as soon as you are arrested the prosecutor can use against you say [and] anything you don’t say against you,” says Marc Zilversmit, Tom’s attorney.

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a similar decision in 2013, in a case involving a suspect’s silence prior to arrest. In that case, the suspect voluntarily answered police questions for nearly two hours but refused to talk in depth about a gun found in his house. The prosecutor used that against him at trial.

“Most people assume that if you have a right and you exercise it, that’s all you need to do,” says Standford Law professor Jeff Fisher.

Fisher says the courts’ rulings set a trap for the unwary. The courts said the only exception is if defendants expressly tell police they are invoking their Fifth Amendment rights. Fisher says the rulings affect every kind of criminal case, including white-collar investigations where suspects are often questioned at length before being arrested.

“Under these decisions, somebody in that situation, just as much as the person accused of murder or manslaughter, needs to announce that they are relying on the Fifth Amendment privilege,” Fisher says. “It’s not enough to simply refuse to talk to police.”

Posted in Homeboy Industries, juvenile justice, pretrial detention/release, Sentencing, solitary | 1 Comment »

Sheriff’s Candidates Wax Progressive at Debate….Tanaka’s a No-Show….Eric Previn Wants 2 be Supe…& More

March 21st, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

SHERIFF’S CANDIDATES GET NOTABLY PROGRESSIVE AND PAUL TANAKA PULLS A LAST MINUTE NO-SHOW AT THE 2ND BIG PUBLIC DEBATE

Mercado La Paloma in South LA was jammed Thursday night as five of the seven candidates running for LA County Sheriff took their seats for the second public debate, and answered questions on such topics as alternative sentencing, building new jails, immigration enforcement, data gathering on stop & frisk, and more—all topics to which the five men gave consistently progressive-leaning answers that featured more agreement than difference.

For instance, the candidates were asked if they were in favor of solving the jail overcrowding problem by building new jails?

By and large they are not. They’d rather manage the jail population by finding appropriate therapeutic housing for the mentally ill who routinely turn up in the jails, and most favored some kind of alternate sentencing and pretrial release.

Bob Olmsted wants to create a special court for the mentally ill.

“We need to free the bed space for those who really need to be locked up,” he said.

“We need community based mental health clinics,” agreed Jim McDonnell.

Jim Hellmold and Lou Vince said no to any kind of jail expansion. “Once we do that, those beds are always going to be filled,” said Vince.

“Community based alternatives can reduce recidivism by ten or twenty percent,” said Todd Rogers and then proceeded to expand enthusiastically on the topic.

The candidates also favored a more appropriate, family-friendly environment for women who are locked up.

“Right now our women are housed in facilities that are intended for men in complete lockdown,” said Hellmold.

All the candidates were roundly in favor of a robust citizen oversight body for the LASD

And so it went on topic after topic. While there were degrees of difference, there was more often agreement that leaned in a distinctly reformist direction.

“They were more progressive in many cases than the majority of the board of supervisors,” said So Cal ACLU legal director, Peter Eliasberg, after the questioning was over. (The ACLU was one of the event’s sponsors.) “For example, there was a real unanimity in the suggestion that LA is incarcerating way too many people. Whereas what appears to be the board’s response, which is to build more jail beds, that’s clearly not what these candidates want to be doing.”


WHILE 5 CANDIDATES OPINED, 2 CANDIDATES WERE MISSING

Two candidates in the field, however, were not available for comment.

Pat Gomez had another event he felt he had to attend so wasn’t able to take part in the debate, but according to Eliasberg, Gomez notified the debate staff a week or two in advance.

Paul Tanaka, in contrast, cancelled “because of a conflict” at exactly 12:37 pm on the day of the event, said Eliasberg.



AND IN RELATED NEWS: AD HOC WATCHDOG ERIC PREVIN RUNS FOR SUPERVISOR

Eric Previn, our favorite ad hoc LA County watchdog, would now like to join the ranks of those he has previously enjoyed hectoring mightily on regular basis.

Hillel Aron (whom we’re happy to note will now be writing full time for the LA Weekly) has the story. Here’s a clip:

Eric Preven isn’t like other gadflies, those full-time roustabouts who skulk the halls of L.A. government making public comment after comment until every bureaucrat is ready to put a gun to his or her head. Preven is different; he’s… well, he’s cleaner. And more normal looking. And: Preven digs up good dirt.

Inspired by something weird that was done to Preven’s mom’s beloved labrador a few years ago (by L.A. County Animal Control), he’s acquired a compulsion to appear each Tuesday to castigate the five powerful members of the County Board of Supervisors, who oversee government programs affecting 10 million people*, control a budget of about $25 billion – and enjoy power and authority virtually unrivaled in California.

They meet Preven with a bitter indifference or, more often, open disdain. But now, the biggest thorn in the Supervisors’ sides is running to replace Zev Yaroslavsky, so he can join the bunch he taunts with surprisingly well-informed criticisms and news scoops.

Here’s Previn in high theatrical form.


CRIMINAL JUSTICE BILLS & BUDGET PRIORITIES TO WATCH in 2014

Californians for Safety and Justice, a non-profit that gives voice to crime victims and brings them together with community leaders, policymakers, law enforcement and more, has created a wish list of 2014 bills and budget priorities to keep an eye on.

Here is a representative sampling of the items on their list:

BILLS

AB 1919 (V.M. Perez) – Increase the Use of Risk Assessments: Research shows that we reduce repeat offenses when people in the justice system are matched with programming and supervision determined by an individual risk and needs assessment. This bill will encourage counties to use a validated risk and needs assessment for people in their local justice system.

AB 2612 (Dababneh) – Increase Access to Drug Treatment Programs: Nearly two-thirds of all jail inmates suffer from a substance abuse disorder, and, if unaddressed, such disorders drive criminal behavior. With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, California has an opportunity to increase the use of federal Medi-Cal dollars to fund drug treatment programs as an effective alternative to warehousing people in jails. This bill would address existing barriers to increased placement in residential programs.

SB 466 (DeSaulnier) – Creating the California Institute for Criminal Justice Policy: This bill would create a nonpartisan, independent institute to conduct timely research on criminal justice and public safety issues. Its primary responsibility will be creating a Master Plan for California Public Safety based on research and evidence-based practices in the field, and the Institute will also analyze any criminal justice bill to determine its effectiveness, cost-benefit and suitability within the Master Plan.

BUDGET PRIORITIES

Help Crime Victims Recover, Avoid Repeat Victimization by Expanding Trauma Recovery: Victims often experience long-term effects, including trauma and mental health conditions. Left unaddressed, these conditions can impact victims’ ability to recover and may lead to financial problems, mental health issues, substance abuse, depression and further victimization. The existing system can be confusing to access and often only offers short-term support. The Trauma Recovery Center model takes a holistic approach to healing the person in a welcoming and safe environment that provides long-term support.

Improve the Outcomes for Women and Families via Alternative Custody Programs: Research has shown that women in the justice system who maintain a relationship with their children are less likely to reoffend, and their children are less likely to suffer trauma and to be incarcerated as adults. By implementing programs that allow women who have committed nonviolent, non-serious to serve their time in alternative custody programs, we can reduce crime and population pressures on prisons and jails.

Ensure Structured Reentry to Reduce Recidivism by Expanding Split Sentences: The first few weeks an individual is released from prison or jail is a crucial time. Structured reentry, through the use of reentry services and supervision, can reduce the likelihood of reoffending and increase public safety. Under Public Safety Realignment, some people are serving their entire sentence in jail and have no support or supervision upon release. By making split sentences the default (unless a judge rules otherwise out of the interest of public safety), we can ensure individuals have a more effective reintegration into the community.

Reduce Jail Pressures, Costs by Incentivizing the Use of Pretrial Programs: Using jail space to house low-risk people awaiting trial is expensive and paid for public safety. For low-risk people not yet convicted of a crime, evidence-based pretrial programs can increase court appearances, reduce recidivism and save valuable public safety dollars.

Click here for the rest..


TREATING PREGNANT WOMEN IN CALIFORNIA PRISONS

Dr. Corazon Navarro has been treating pregnant state prison inmates since 1987. She is the OB/GYN at the California Institute for Women in Chino.

In KPCC’s First Person project, Navarro tells about her work and what she loves about it.


Posted in 2014 election, immigration, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, pretrial detention/release, prison, prison policy, Realignment, Sentencing | 22 Comments »

Contra Costa Does Realignment Right….Supes Take Small Step Toward Civilian Oversight for the LASD….LA County’s Problematic GPS Monitoring….Justice Reform: the Good & the Bad News….

February 26th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


CAN CONTRA COSTA COUNTY TEACH THE REST OF CALIFORNIA HOW REALIGNMENT SHOULD BE DONE?

Yes, Contra Costa is smaller than counties like LA, Orange and Riverside. But it has a crime rate roughly equivalent to that of the rest of the state, and its success with the ins and outs of realignment since the effects of AB109 kicked in, has been dramatic.

A new report looks at what exactly Contra Costa is doing right and how it might be replicated. Christopher Nelson at Cal Forward has the story.

Here’s a clip:

The time between when the three judge panel ordered California to dramatically reduce its state prison population to when AB 109 went into effect was quick by any measure, especially for something of this magnitude.

Naturally, some counties have fared better than others under realignment, including new responsibilities for non-violent, non-sexual and non-serious criminal offenders who in the past would have been sent to prison. But according to a study commissioned by Californians for Safety and Justice and released last month by the JFA Institute, there is one county that already had so many cultural and institutional elements in line that is has risen above the rest and serves as a model for how realignment should be implemented. That county is Contra Costa.

“I think it would be fair to say we came from a unique position from the very beginning,” said Philip Kader, Chief of Contra Costa County Probation and by virtue of that title, chair of the Community Corrections Partnership (CCP) that allocates AB 109 funding throughout the county.

In many ways, Contra Costa doesn’t differ too much from other California counties. It has a population of about 1 million, making it the 9th largest county in the state. Its crime rate is about on par with the rest of the state, lest anyone think that a smaller Northern California county might be exempt from some of the troubles that plague its larger brethren down south.

But it differs in one major way: a culture of mutual respect exists between probation, sheriff, the district attorney and public defender without which Contra Costa would not be able to achieve the astounding statistical success it has seen since 2010.

According to the report, which was prepared by the JFA Institute, which is headed by James Austin, PhD (the same guy who did the report on how the LA County Jail system cold best handle its overcrowding problems), Contra Costa allocated about 60% of its AB109 funds to programs and services (probation, public defender, health services and contracted programs) designed to assist people convicted of crimes.

There’s lots more in the report and in Nelson’s story about the report.


THE LA COUNTY BOARD OF SUPES TAKE FIRST SMALL STEP TO (POSSIBLY) CREATE CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT BOARD FOR LASD—BUT WOULD IT HAVE ANY POWER?

On Tuesday morning the Supervisors voted to ask new LASD Inspector General Max Huntsman and new interim LASD Sheriff John Scott (along with the county counsel) to look into what kind of civilian oversight body they believe would work when it comes to the sheriff’s department.

Rina Palta at KPCC has the story. Here’s a clip:

The Board of Supervisors Tuesday voted to study creating a civilian body to monitor the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department.

The Board has debated for months a proposal by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas to create a civilian oversight commission, but Ridley-Thomas could not muster the three votes needed for passage.

On Tuesday, the Board agreed instead to ask Interim Sheriff John Scott, Inspector General Max Huntsman and the county counsel to study what sorts of oversight might be appropriate for the department.

[BIG SNIP]

In December, the Board hired Huntsman away from the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office to start an Office of the Inspector General to monitor the Sheriff’s Department.

But Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said that move was not enough – that the Sheriff’s Department needs a civilian oversight body, akin to the LAPD’s Police Commission, to serve as a transparent, public watchdog. Supervisor Gloria Molina cosponsored the proposal.

Critics, however, wondered how much “oversight” a commission would actually have. Voters elect county sheriffs in California, meaning that by law they are independent from other county leaders. The Board of Supervisors oversees the sheriff’s budget, but, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky told KPCC in December the Board can hardly threaten the sheriff by withholding funding.

The report is due this June—right about the time LA County residents will be voting for a new sheriff in the election primary.


PROBATION CHIEF POWERS REPORTS TO SUPES ON DRAMATIC PROBLEMS WITH GPS MONITORING SYSTEMS

Also in Tuesday’s meeting of the Supervisors, Probation Chief Jerry Powers gave a lengthy report on his agency’s use of an electronic monitoring system to track criminal offenders who, for one reason or another, qualify for GPS monitoring.

Powers was refreshingly candid in his assessment that the system was something of a mess.

“I think we have to spend some time taking our lumps, frankly, in reviewing how probation implemented the program,” Powers said. “It was very clear to me that it was not close to a best practice.”

Then he added that probation didn’t really have good policies in place to sort out which people were put on GPS and why. Plus there was the matter of losing track of around 80 offenders altogether.

He also outlined the agency’s failure to give probation officers adequate training to oversee the monitoring system.

Yet, although Powers did not present an encouraging picture, his transparency, forthrightness and thoroughness in facing up to the unwanted reality went a long way in giving the county a clear path to follow in order to greatly improve matters.

The LA Times’ Paige St. John takes a detailed look at the problems Powers presented and their implications. Here’s a clip:

By the end of this week, the probation department intends to reduce thousands of alerts created when offenders drive or ride through about 4,800 violation zones that blanket Los Angeles County, including every school and park. It will use software to calculate the speed of monitored offenders and ignore alerts created by those moving quickly.

The department ultimately intends to remove those default zones and establish prohibited areas unique to each offender, a goal set for this spring. Officials are also in the midst of creating a 12-person unit of deputies trained to use electronic monitoring. Some officers told The Times that they never were instructed how to use the system and were unaware that they could determine a felon’s past or current location.

Los Angeles County officials said they were also tackling equipment problems they have had with the GPS ankle monitors provided by vendor Sentinel Offender Services of Irvine. An internal audit in September found that one in four GPS devices used to track serious criminals was faulty. The vendor attributed many of those problems to poorly trained county deputies.

Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who is not a fan of GPS monitoring, noted during the meeting that Sentinel, the vender that provides LA County with its GPS devices, had failed to meet its contractual obligations, and that probation should seek a new vender.

“We shouldn’t be a partner in allowing this vender to continue to operated after their past record of failing to abide by the contract,” he said.

Last November, if you’ll remember, WitnessLA reported that the board was poised to approve a new contract with Irvine, California based Sentinel Offender Services. Nevermind that last summer, Orange County Probation had broken its contract with Sentinel after finding that the company had repeatedly been guilty of what amounted to gross incompetence.

And there were other red flags… (You can find the backstory here.)


YES, WE ARE SEEING SOME REAL JUSTICE REFORM, BUT THERE’S A LONG WAY TO GO

The so-called “tough on crime” era that came to full flower in the early to mid 1980s, resulted in the US having 25 percent of the world’s prisoners and only 5 percent of its population (to use the much quoted statistic).

In the last few years, as we have often mentioned here at WLA, the tide has slowly begun to turn.

Timothy P. Silard, a former prosecutor and the president of the Rosenberg Foundation, lays it out well in an essay for the Huffington Post. Here’s a clip.

For those of us who consider criminal justice reform to be one of the leading civil rights issues of our time, these are hopeful signs that we might be entering a new era. We are no longer turning a blind eye to the damage being done to our communities by an out-of-control criminal justice system, or ignoring the pervasive racial bias that undermines the very legitimacy of the system itself.

Racial disparities deeply persist in our justice system at all levels, from how we treat victims to whom we arrest and send to jails and prisons. Victims of violent crime are more likely to be Latino or African American, and nearly half of all homicide victims are Black men and boys. But the perception that our young men are dangerous, rather than vulnerable, is one that is reinforced daily by our justice system.

Nationally, 25 percent of those behind bars are there for drug offenses, and the racial disparities in drug enforcement are staggering. While African Americans use and sell drugs at lower rates than whites, they are are incarcerated for drug charges at 10 times the rate of whites.

[BIG SNIP]

More states, including California, must continue to shift from an “incarceration only” approach and toward the evidence-based programs and services that have been proven to actually reduce crime and racial injustice in the system, while also saving precious taxpayer dollars. For example, education and job-focused programs like San Francisco’s Back on Track program and New York’s Bard Prison Initiative have dramatically reduced re-offense rates to less than 10 percent, creating pathways to productive lives for the sons, daughters, fathers and mothers caught up in the criminal justice system, at a fraction of the cost of incarceration.

Posted in criminal justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, pretrial detention/release, Probation, Realignment, Reentry | No Comments »

LA Supes Vote $75 Mil for Kern County Jail….Brown Gets a Mini-Extension on Prison Problem…. More on the LASD Deputy & the 7 Shootings…

September 25th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



LA COUNTY SUPERVISORS VOTE TO GIVE BACA $75 MILLION TO SEND INMATES TO KERN COUNTY LOCK-UP

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted to give Sheriff Lee Baca $75 million over a 5-year period in order for him to ship 500 county jail inmates to a jail facility in the town of Taft in Kern County.

Speaking for the LASD, Chief Eric Parra presented the need for the money and the out-of-county jail contract as answering a pressing need for more jail space to prevent dangerous inmates from being released after serving only a fraction of their sentences—a policy that the sheriff has been employing for around a decade, but that now has quite rightly attracted notice and concern.

The vote came after last week’s approval of another $25 million to send 500 jail inmates to fire camps—a strategy that at least has rehabilitative and job training elements.

Some of those experts and advocates who opposed the Taft jail plan brought up the fact that the sheriff and the board of supervisors have declined to push for the use of pretrial release and the strategy known as split sentencing-—both of which have been used in other California counties to lower their jail populations in the wake of AB109.

ACLU legal director Peter Eliasberg reminded the board about the county-funded Vera Institute report on jail overcrowding, which found that, with the use of judicious pretrial release of certain inmates waiting for their cases to be adjudicated, the department could immediately lower the jail population substantially.

“One of the reports by Vera was that the pretrial system in LA was broken,” said Eliasberg, “and that there were 700 or more low-level offenders in the jail who would present little risk to community but who could not make bail. This board,” he said, “with one stroke of the pen could give the sheriff’s department the authority to release those pretrial inmates to electronic monitoring. You’re getting 500 beds at Taft. You could get 700 beds with one stroke of the pen, one motion of this board.”

Eliasberg also pointed out that this pre-trial strategy was already being used successfully in San Diego and Riverside along with seven other California counties.

Additional speakers pointed to the fact that, unlike most other California counties, LA County is making almost no use of “split-sentencing,” the newly instituted incarceration and reentry strategy where the inmate serves part of his or her sentence in jail, and the remainder in the community under close supervision by the probation department with the goal to reintegrate successfully into their lives, and not end up reoffending. (Split-sentencing also requires participation in certain rehabilitative programs.)

In the end, the requisite three supes voted for the $75 million/Taft Jail plan, with Mark Ridley-Thomas and Zev Yaroslavsky abstaining in the hope that they could delay the vote for a week or four in order to more fully consider other options. But no luck.

Worry about dangerous inmates being released to the countryside prevailed, and the purse strings were opened—nevermind that there were far better alternatives available than those presented in the false choice between more jail cells or the ridiculously early release of prisoners by the sheriff.

An opportunity sadly missed.


JERRY BROWN GETS 30 DAYS BREATHING SPACE TO TRY TO WORK OUT A PRISON POP REDUCTION DEAL WITH ALL THE PLAYERS

The federal judges overseeing California’s requirement to lower the state’s prison population just gave Governor Jerry Brown 30 more days after the December 31 deadline in order to try to hammer out a long term solution.

Here’s a clip from Paige St. John’s story for the LA Times:

Three federal judges have given California Gov. Jerry Brown a 30-day extension on their order to reduce prison crowding, buying time for confidential talks between lawyers for the state and those representing inmates.

The order, delivered Tuesday afternoon, was well-received by prisoners’ lawyers, who had largely been left out of negotiations between Brown and the Legislature over prison-crowding solutions.

“We’re always willing to try and negotiate an agreement that will benefit the state and the prisoners,” said Don Specter, lead attorney for the Prison Law Office. He said he did not believe a one-month delay in reducing prison crowding would make a big difference in the 23-year-old litigation.

Brown’s lawyers had asked the federal courts for a three-year delay in the Dec. 31 deadline to remove roughly 9,600 inmates from California’s overcrowded prison system, where medical and psychiatric care is so poor that incarceration has been deemed unconstitutionally cruel. The governor offered to use that time to invest in community probation and rehabilitation programs, with the aim of reducing the number of repeat offenders being sent to prison.


MORE ON THAT SHERIFF’S DEPUTY, HIS SEVEN SHOOTINGS AND HOW HE GOT BACK ON PATROL

As readers likely remember, in a startling story last week, the LA Times reported that Michael Gennaco of the Office of Independent Review wrote the LA County Board of Supervisors about his concern over a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy who had just been involved in his seventh shooting, this time a fatal one.

According to Gennaco, Deputy Anthony Forlano, who had been put on desk duty for two years after his 2011 shooting number six, was returned to field duty by former undersheriff Paul Tanaka in April of this year. A few months later, the deputy and his partner shot a seventh suspect, this time fatally.

Gennaco noted that, of the deputies first six shootings, three involved unarmed suspects.

But, whether or not all Forlano’s shootings were righteous, the sheer number of shootings is alarmingly unprecedented, at least according to the collective institutional memories of all the members of law enforcement—LASD AND LAPD, both—-with whom we’ve thus far spoken in the last few days. “At least I can’t think of anyone with that kind of number,” said a knowledgable LAPD source.

Mr. Tanaka repeatedly denied to the press that he’d been the one to send the deputy back into the field, but said he gave the decision to Forlano’s supervisor, Captain Robert Tubbs.

(Tanaka also said he’d been the person to initially bench Forlano, which according to department spokesman Steve Whitmore, was not the case. Whitmore said that the deputy had been taken out of the field by a panel of command staffers. )

Sheriff Baca, meanwhile, said he knew nothing of the decision to return Forlano to patrol.

It turns out, however, that Tanaka reportedly did unilaterally give the order for Forlano to go back to patrol.

In fact, we have learned of the existence of two emails sent between Forlano and Tanaka on April 26 of this year, both referring to a meeting the day before (April 25) between the deputy and the then-undersheriff.

The first email sent in the morning of the 26th, is from Forlano thanking Tanaka for meeting with him and getting him off the desk duty and back to work in the field—-or words to that effect.

Tanaka answers a few hours later, and gives the deputy a verbal slap on the back, writing, in essence, that he believes that Forlano will make the department proud.

The emails reveal several interesting things.

First there is the timing.

If you remember, Tanaka was forced into retirement by the sheriff on March 6, 2013. Although Tanaka was still technically employed by the department until August first, his falling out with Baca was reportedly severe enough that he was rarely in the LASD’s headquarters after the first couple of weeks of March.

Moreover, in the fall of 2012, after the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence recommended that Baca removed Tanaka from any oversight of the jails or of patrol, the sheriff assured the board of supervisors that his undersheriff was now only overseeing the budget.

Clearly this was not the case—as evidenced by Tanaka’s actions with Anthony Forlano in April.

It is alarming that neither the sheriff, nor anyone else, seemed to know that Mr. Tanaka was still taking upon himself such significant decisions—despite assurances to the contrary—and doing so, as has been his pattern, by stepping outside the chain of command, without employing any rigorous protocol or process whatsoever.

“So it was determined that he was field ready, based on no objective criteria other than a conversation,” said Mike Gennaco.

One wonders in what other ways the former undersheriff, now candidate for LA County Sheriff, selected himself as the decider, with no one able or willing to stop him.

We are thankful that the sheriff’s department, with the OIR’s urging, plans to create a sensible system for dealing with such situations as Forlano’s. It is in the best interest of the deputy and the community that such protections be put into place.

Had they existed last April, it is possible a man would be locked up, but not dead and a deputy’s career would be recalibrated, but not be shattered.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC….THE LA TIMES EDITORIAL BOARD SAYS THAT A STRONG INSPECTOR GENERAL MAY DO BETTER IN OVERSEEING THE LASD THAN A STANDING COMMISSION

The LA Times editorial board argues that now is not the time for a new commission to oversee the sheriff’s department, that an independent inspector general could have a much stronger effect.

We’re still debating the matter, but editorial board writer, Sandra Hernandez makes many points well worth considering.

Here’s clip:

….The fact is, there are already a number of people and offices overseeing the Sheriff’s Department, but they lack authority. The supervisors have a special counsel who has repeatedly issued reports but who does not have the power to force a discussion. There’s an Office of Independent Review, but it too often serves as an advisor to the sheriff. And the ombudsman, created to handle citizens’ complaints, fails to regularly perform that job. The jails commission noted that too often the Sheriff’s Department has only “paid lip-service to those oversight bodies.” The proposed inspector general’s office would consolidate the functions of those other offices.

No doubt, some of the supervisors will argue that any watchdog agency will have only limited influence over Sheriff Lee Baca because he is a directly elected official. It’s true that it is the voters, not the supervisors or any other overseer, who ultimately decide whether Baca stays or goes. But a strong inspector general, whose office is adequately funded and staffed, could have a profound impact on the sheriff by maintaining a public spotlight on the problems in his office….

Posted in CDCR, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), jail, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, Los Angeles County, pretrial detention/release, prison, prison policy, Probation, Sheriff Lee Baca | 25 Comments »

California Leaders Strike a Deal on Overcrowding Solutions, Bill for Youths with Adult Sentences Moves Forward, and the LA Times on Pre-trial Release

September 10th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

GOV. BROWN, SENATE, AND ASSEMBLY MAKE AGREEMENT ON PRISON POP. STRATEGIES

Governor Jerry Brown and California legislative leaders agreed to a compromise Monday regarding their competing prison overcrowding plans: First they will present to the panel of three federal judges Senate President pro tem Darrell Steinberg’s request for a deadline extension to implement a series of rehabilitative strategies. If the judges don’t agree, Jerry’s $315M for-profit prison proposal will be the fallback position. (For WLA’s previous post on the issue, go here.)

The Associated Press has the story. Here’s a clip:

The deal relies on the state persuading three federal judges to give California time to let rehabilitation programs work rather than spend $315 million to lease cells in private prisons and county jails.

The leaders agreed that if the judges don’t extend the deadline, the state will fall back on Brown’s plan to lease the cells.

“There’s insurance here against early release” of prisoners, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said at a news conference outside the governor’s office, where he was joined by the governor and Democratic and Republican leaders of each chamber.

[SNIP]

The agreement reached Monday resolves the impasse as lawmakers race toward the end of the legislative session this week.

However, there is no guarantee the judges will go along.


While California lawmakers are asking for more time to reduce the prison population, Chris Megerian of the LA Times presents a timeline of California’s overcrowding problems spanning almost two decades.


KQED’s Mina Kim talks to the station’s Sacramento Bureau Chief Scott Detrow about the agreement between Brown and the Steinberg coalition. Here’s a clip from the discussion (scroll down for the sound clip):

MK: Senate President pro tem Darrell Steinberg put forward the alternate plan, but his plan relies on federal judges granting a three year extension. The special panel has already rejected requests for more time. The US Supreme Court rejected a request last month. What makes the governor and lawmakers think that the federal judges will change their minds now?

SD: That’s the big question, and that’s the big hole in this compromise that the governor is pushing today. …He has spent all of 2013 fighting this court order, and time after time the federal courts have come back and said, “No, we’re sticking to our deadline.” Brown says this is different because California is putting legislation in place that would in theory reach these hard goals that the courts have set for the state…

Option A does exactly what the courts want. Option B will reach that goal, but over a longer period of time and in a way, at least according to the authors of this proposal, will have more of a long-term effect than simply expanding the prison system. He’s banking on the fact that the court, when given these two options, will say, “Okay, we’ll ease our deadline because this is a better plan for the long term.”


Even if it seems slightly off point, this article from Bloomberg about the effect of California’s incarceration decisions on two the big private prison corporations makes for interesting reading. It makes one wonder how these profitability issues might influence California politics. Here’s a clip:

Corrections Corp. of America, the largest U.S. prison company, and Geo Group Inc. (GEO) stand to gain in California Governor Jerry Brown’s plan to rent thousands of their cells as part of a $1 billion effort to meet a federal court deadline to reduce prison overcrowding.

Brown seeks to spend $315 million in the year that ends June 30 and an estimated $415 million annually for two more years to remove 12,500 inmates from state penitentiaries. The plan calls for leasing a Corrections Corp. (CXW) prison in the Mojave Desert, shipping more inmates to private lockups out of state, and renting beds at public and private jails in California.

The proposal is an about-face by Brown, who sent Corrections Corp. shares tumbling 8.9 percent in one day in April 2012 when he said he planned to reclaim almost 10,000 inmates held by the company in Arizona, Mississippi and Oklahoma. California is Corrections Corp.’s biggest state customer and accounted for 12 percent of revenue, or $214.8 million, in 2012, according to corporate filings.


CALIFORNIA ASSEMBLY APPROVES BILL TO PROVIDE YOUTHS WITH LONG ADULT SENTENCES A CHANCE AT PAROLE

The California Assembly approved a bill Friday, SB 260, that would provide a possibility of parole to many inmates who were sentenced to adult prison as teenagers. (For backstory on the bill go here, and here.) The bill, authored by Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley), now has to make it through the Senate before it lands on Gov. Brown’s desk.

The Eurasia Review has the story on SB 260. Here’s a clip:

Senate Bill 260 (Hancock) passed in the Assembly with bipartisan support by a vote of 51 to 21. Next week it will return to the Senate, where an earlier version passed with a two-thirds majority, for a concurrence vote.

The bill would create a parole process that would account for the age of the youth offender at the time of the crime and would focus on subsequent rehabilitation as a key factor in determining suitability for parole.

“California law does not recognize what every parent and teacher knows: children are different from adults,” said Elizabeth Calvin, senior children’s rights advocate at Human Rights Watch. “If passed into law, this bill will help put many young offenders on a path to being productive members of society.”

California sentences many youth to adult prison terms, even when the person was under 18 at the time of the crime. More than 6,500 youth offenders are in California state prisons. Some were as young as 14 when the crime was committed and over half are serving life sentences.

The bill would provide review for young offenders who were convicted as adults and who have served at least 15 years. Many, however, would have to serve 20 or 25 years before going before the parole board.


A QUICK SOLUTION TO EASE LA JAIL OVERCROWDING LIES IN THE HANDS OF THE BOARD OF SUPERVISORS

While we were (partially) off the grid last week, the LA Times published a noteworthy editorial on the merits of pre-trial release for a portion of the 10,000 inmates awaiting trial as a means of reducing overcrowding in LA County jails. Here are some clips:

With some county jail inmates serving only a fraction of their sentences due to overcrowding, as The Times reported Sunday, Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich has called on Sheriff Lee Baca to provide ideas on how to increase the portion of their terms that inmates actually spend behind bars. The supervisor asked specifically about contracting for more lockups throughout the state — while failing to mention an option that could immediately free up space to house the most serious offenders.

[SNIP]

Thousands of beds are currently occupied by people awaiting their trials in jail instead of at home simply because they can’t afford to post bail. Money, not public safety, is often what determines whether someone charged with a crime walks free and helps his lawyer prepare a defense or stays locked up.

AB 109, the same legislation that gave counties new responsibilities and new funding for dealing with some felons previously handled by the state, also authorized sheriffs to release pretrial detainees, on electronic monitoring when appropriate, even if they can’t pay their bail. The catch is that the sheriffs must first be given the go-ahead by their county boards of supervisors — and Los Angeles County’s supervisors haven’t budged.

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), jail, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, pretrial detention/release, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

WitnessLA Taking a Break for the Rest of the Week

September 3rd, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

Due to a looming project that absolutely must be completed, we’re taking a break until Monday, September 9—unless, of course, there’s breaking news or something so pressing that it would be a clear dereliction of journalistic duty not to give you the heads up.

We will return next Monday in full force.

In the meantime, as we go out the door, here are a few links that you might want to check out:


WHY IS JERRY BROWN SO OBSTINATE ON THE PRISON PLAN ISSUE? asks the Sacramento Bee’s Dan Walters. Good question. As Walters points out, State Senate leader Darrell Steinberg’s plan is FAR less expensive and far more creative—and potentially a route to reform. So why is Jerry digging in his heels? Calling all FOJs—Friends of Jerry. Talk to the man!


SHERIFF’S CHALLENGER PAUL TANAKA talks to the Los Cerritos News.


A bunch of EARLY RELEASES FROM LA COUNTY JAIL to free-up space, writes the LA Times’ Jack Leonard and Abby Sewell. WLA wants to know why the Sheriff hasn’t taken a leadership position on pre-trial release (See VERA Institute report) instead of all this early releasing.

(Sheriff challenger, Bob Olmsted comments on the matter on his Facebook page, and challenger Lou Vince tweets about it.)


PS: Did we mention that DIANA NYAD is a goddess? Consider it mentioned. For this summer at least, the toughest athlete in the world is a 64-year-old woman.

Posted in 2014 election, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), LA County Jail, LASD, pretrial detention/release, prison, prison policy | 2 Comments »

Economics and Kids’ Brains, Pretrial Successes, and Overpaid Prison Doctors

October 23rd, 2012 by Taylor Walker

KIDS’ BRAIN DEVELOPMENT AFFECTED BY ENVIRONMENT

Socioeconomic status plays a role in the development of certain parts of kids’ brains associated with memory, learning, and stress response, according to a Columbia University report.

Youth Today’s James Swift has the story. Here’s a clip:

According to the study, researchers observed a correlation between the education and income level of parents and the development of several areas of their children’s brains – in particular, the areas vital to stress reception, learning and memorization.

“Socioeconomic disparities in childhood are associated with remarkable differences in cognitive and socio-emotional development during a time when dramatic changes are occurring in the brain,” the report states.
Using a broad base of subjects, from families that lived at the poverty threshold to families that made more than $100,000 annually, researchers found that the hippocampi – the portion of the brain essential in memorization and learning functions – of children living with parents with higher incomes had a larger “volume” than those in subjects raised by parents with lower incomes. Similarly, researchers found that the amygdalae – the portion of the brain that processes stress – of children living with parents with more educational experiences had lower “volumes” than those in children raised by parents with less educational experiences.

The report, which is behind a pay wall, seems to focus on family income and parents’ education levels. The larger picture, however, points to the fact that children in poorer families with lower education levels are faced with more trauma than their more affluent counterparts.

In a phenomenal September episode of This American Life, host Ira Glass looks at, among other things, the relationship between brain development and education. About a third of the way through the show, Glass introduces SF pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris, who explains why early childhood trauma stunts cognitive growth. Here’s his introduction to Burke’s work:

It’s well-documented that poor children do worse on tests and worse in school than better-off ones. This is the so-called achievement gap.

What this new science seems to indicate is that what is holding these children back is not poverty. It’s not the lack of money or resources in their homes. It’s stress. If you grew up in a poor household, it is more likely to be a household the just stresses you out in ways that kids in better-off homes are not stressed out. And that stress prevents you from developing these non-cognitive skills.

Be sure to listen to the whole thing—it’s important and we’ll definitely be coming back to these issues.


PRETRIAL PROGRAMS WORK FOR SF

Pretrial release programs are seeing success in the Bay Area, with a reported 97% of San Francisco participants showing up to their court dates. Because of the developed pretrial programs, SF boasts jail populations far below capacity, unlike…you know…LA. Advocates say the release of qualified defendants awaiting trial would ease CA jail overcrowding, save taxpayer dollars, and allow nonviolent detainees to continue providing for their families while they wait.

The SF Chronicle’s Marisa Lagos has the story. Here’s a clip:

Advocates, including the American Civil Liberties Union and some Democratic lawmakers, say the programs promote both public safety and justice by using scientific evaluations to help judges decide whether it is safe to release a defendant before they go to trial. The current bail system, they say, favors wealth and strands low-income people behind bars because they cannot afford bail amounts. They also argue that a defendant who gets out of jail is less likely to accept a plea deal and has a better chance of an acquittal or a shorter sentence if they go to trial.

Opponents, including the bail bond industry and some law enforcement and victims rights groups, say defendants pose a lesser flight risk when they have put up money for a bail bond and that pretrial programs pose a risk to public safety, because they do not focus on the crime a person is charged with.

Under the programs, nonviolent defendants who qualify for pretrial release are either freed on their own recognizance – that is, only a promise to appear, though often there are restrictions on their behavior – or placed on supervised release, which can range from mandated group therapy to probation-like check-ins or electronic monitoring.

In San Francisco, for example, someone placed on supervised release may have to go to an anger management group once a week until the case is adjudicated and will have a case manager checking in to make sure that person appears in court.

Supporters believe the programs help counties better manage overcrowded jails. Jail populations in some counties have increased since Gov. Jerry Brown’s realignment program started a year ago. Under the program, judges sentence some offenders to jails who in the past would have gone to state prisons.

But while some counties have overcrowded jails, San Francisco has been able to keep its jail population well below capacity for years, officials say, in part because of its 15-year-old pretrial release program.

“Last year, we released about 1,300 (pretrial defendants). … Our cases are predicated on public safety, and by and large, our folks are indigent,” said Will Leong, director of the city’s Pretrial Diversion Project, who said that as many as 97 percent of participants show up for their court date. “If they could afford to bail out, they do so before we can get to them.”


PRISON MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS’ SALARY CONTROVERSY

A 2001 class-action lawsuit (Plata v. Schwarzenegger) against the State of California over the ghastly quality of medical care in the state’s 33 prisons resulted in California’s prison health care system being handed over to a federal receiver in 2005 after the court found that things were SO bad that they violated the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution (cruel and unusual punishment). But nothing is ever simple. And so it appears one of the unintended consequences was that the receiver’s unchecked power to set medical staff’s pay grades and make hiring decisions seems have sent him off the rails. The average salary of CA prison doctors last year was nearly $379,000, with the highest salary paid to a Salinas psychiatrist to the tune of over $800,000.

ABC News has the AP story. Here’s how it opens:

A doctor at California Medical Facility was paid more than $410,000 last year, while a registered nurse at High Desert State Prison made nearly $236,000 — more than twice the statewide average in both cases.

A pharmacist at Corcoran State Prison was paid more than $196,000, nearly double what is typical across the state.

Compensation for medical providers has soared in the prison system since a federal judge seized control of inmate health care in 2006 and appointed an overseer with the power to hire and set pay levels.

As the official begins to wind down his oversight, the medical hiring and salary increases have helped lead to an improvement in inmate care, but it has increased the bill for taxpayers too.

It has also led to criticism that the official — called a receiver — provided a “Cadillac” level of care for convicted felons. A state review found that only Texas pays its state prison doctors more that California.

“The problem that we had is that the receiver was not accountable to anybody,” said former state Sen. George Runner, a Republican who has frequently criticized the program.

“So the receiver could just do or choose to spend whatever amount of money he thought was necessary to solve his problem, and unfortunately now the state is stuck with that,” he said.

The receiver for medical care, J. Clark Kelso, said the state has been free to collectively bargain health care providers’ salaries since a court order increasing their wages expired three years ago.

The receiver’s goal was to correct a prison medical system that was ruled unconstitutional for its substandard care and, at one point, contributed to an inmate death each week through negligence or malfeasance.

To do that, the receivership increased salaries, created new positions at high pay and hired hundreds of employees to fill longtime vacancies.

Total spending on medical, dental and mental health care for inmates, numbering 124,700, has more than doubled over the last decade, from $1.1 billion in fiscal year 2003-04 to a projected $2.3 billion this year.

Posted in Education, health care, juvenile justice, pretrial detention/release, prison | 3 Comments »

LASD Use Cameras to Reduce False Identifications, Federal Court Weighs in on DNA Sampling, and the Full Cost of Money Bail

September 20th, 2012 by Taylor Walker

LASD DEPUTIES SNAP PHOTOS TO HELP PREVENT MISTAKEN IDENTIFICATION

Under a new program, certain LASD deputies are now armed with cameras in an effort to lower the number of innocent people jailed as a result of mistaken identity. A December 2011 LA Times report showed that almost 1,500 wrongful incarcerations took place over the last five years, although the number has been declining.

The LA Times’ Robert Faturechi and Jack Leonard have the story. Here’s a clip:

Along with his Taser, baton and handgun, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Det. David Huelsen has a new tool for meting out justice: a point-and-shoot camera.

The Malibu traffic detective is among a handful of cops the Sheriff’s Department has equipped with digital cameras as part of an effort to reduce the number of innocent people jailed after being mistaken for wanted criminals.

The reforms come after a Times investigation detailed how authorities in the county had incarcerated people mistaken for wanted criminals more than 1,480 times over five years. Some spent weeks behind bars before the errors were realized. In recent months, other law enforcement agencies around the country have also been confronted with the problem, but the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department is emerging as one of the leaders in attempting to solve it.

Deputies are using the cameras to take photos of people who get cited but don’t have ID. If a defendant misses court appearances and becomes the subject of an arrest warrant, officials hope having the photos on file will avoid cases of mistaken identity.


US NINTH CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS DISCUSSES DNA SAMPLING ON ALL FELONY ARRESTS

An eleven-judge panel of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals deliberated for an hour Wednesday on whether or not the mandatory collection of DNA from anyone facing a felony charge was a violation of the Fourth Amendment, as an unreasonable search and seizure.

San Jose Mercury’s Howard Mintz has the story. Here’s a clip:

The majority of the judges expressed particular concern that the DNA is taken from people regardless of whether they are later charged or convicted of a crime. The arguments were the latest round in an American Civil Liberties Union challenge to the nine-year-old DNA collection law.

9th Circuit Judge N. Randy Smith grilled a deputy attorney general, insisting there is no reason California’s law should permit DNA collection at the point of arrest.

“I don’t see what the government loses by putting it off until conviction, or until a judge looks at it … or at least the prosecutor looks at it, rather than just the police look at it,” said Smith, a Republican appointee of former President George W. Bush.

9th Circuit Judge Raymond Fisher also expressed reservations about the government seizing a person’s genetic map at the point of arrest. The ACLU case was filed on behalf of several people who were arrested and never charged with a crime, yet were forced to provide DNA samples.

“Now if I’m arrested, I wind up leaving behind in the custody of the government the intimate details of my medical condition, my heritage, whatever is in that DNA sample,” Fisher said to Deputy Attorney General Daniel Powell.

(We’ll let you know when the court hands down a decision.)


MONEY BAIL IS A COSTLY FAILURE, SAYS REPORT

A new report from the Justice Policy Institute calls money bail a discriminatory policy that adds billions in taxpayer costs without increasing public safety. The report also outlines proven alternative pretrial detention and release services. Here’s a clip from the press release:

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said last year that taxpayers spend over $9 billion in jail costs alone to keep people in pretrial detention. Meanwhile, people who are held in jail while awaiting a court date may lose their job and housing. Their children and families may suffer from not having that person in the home taking care of his or her responsibilities. People who are jailed while awaiting trial are also more likely to be found guilty and go to prison than their counterparts who are free. This is for a variety of reasons, including the impact of enduring harsh jail conditions, reduced access to defense attorneys, inability to maintain the types of social and personal responsibilities, and the reality that showing up in shackles and a jail jumpsuit creates an impression of guilt on judges and juries.

“Our constitution and laws are supposed to protect the presumption of innocence,” said Dr. Melissa Neal, author of Bail Fail and senior research associate at JPI. “Yet thousands of people are held in jails before trial because they don’t have access to money for bail. This is a waste of taxpayer money and it causes tremendous collateral consequences to those being unnecessarily incarcerated.”

The report shows how the average bail amount for people who are detained has more than doubled from $39,800 in 1992 to $89,900 in 2006. This is despite evidence that higher bail amounts are not related to more public safety and that people who are unable to afford money bail are often a lower risk of dangerousness or failure to appear in court – the two legal justifications to incarcerate someone pretrial – than those who can make bail.

[SNIP]

Bail Fail points to pretrial service (PTS) agencies, in particular, as effective in protecting public safety, ensuring people appear in court, reducing jail populations and their costs, as well as, leveling the playing field so that all people, regardless of income, have their rights protected. By using validated risk assessment instruments, PTS agencies can determine if a person is high, medium or low risk for dangerousness or failing to appear in court. They also can provide appropriate services that increase a person’s likelihood of pretrial success, including supervision and monitoring, referrals to drug treatment, and referrals to social service agencies to address other issues a person may be facing.

The report notes that Washington, D.C., through effective use of its Pretrial Services Agency, has successfully moved away from money bail. In D.C., 80 percent of people charged with an offense are released on nonfinancial bail options to await resolution of their charge while 15 percent are kept in pretrial detention. Only 5 percent are released using some form of financial bail, but there is no use of for-profit bail bondsmen services. The Pretrial Services Agency has reported that 88 percent successfully complete the pretrial process by appearing in court and not being rearrested.

Posted in Courts, DNA, LASD, pretrial detention/release | 1 Comment »

U.S. Defense Lawyers Come Down Hard in Favor of Pretrial Release

August 8th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon



U.S. DEFENSE LAWYERS COME DOWN HARD IN FAVOR OF PRETRIAL RELEASE

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has recently passed a resolution that strongly favors pretrial release alternatives to the conventional bail system that operates in many states, California prominently among them, with high jail populations the result.

Here’s the opening statement of their resolution:

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers believes pretrial liberty must be the norm and detention prior to trial the carefully limited exception.1 “Unless [an accused’s] right to bail before trial is preserved, the presumption of innocence, secured only after centuries of struggle would lose its meaning.”

To put it in plainer terms, the NACDL believes that most people who have not been accused of serious crimes should be able to get out before trial. Getting out should be the norm, say the PDs. Keeping people locked up before their cases get sentenced or go to trial, should be the exception.

However, particularly in big cities—most notably Los Angeles—the opposite is true. Bails are now set so high that a large percentage of people cannot afford the 10 percent, nonrefundable fee that a bondsman charges, much less the bail itself, which either must be paid, or one must put up as collateral something of equal or greater value, like a house or some other asset.

As for the worry that most people won’t show up for trial without a hefty bail, studies suggest otherwise.

Timothy Murray, the executive director of the Pretrial Justice Institute, explains in a May interview with State Legislatures Magasine.

Several years ago the National Institute of Justice, (NIJ), the research arm of the Justice Department, conducted a controlled experiment testing the efficacy of supervised pretrial release. (Supervised pretrial release accountably monitors pretrial defendants in the community using an array of supervision conditions designed to minimize failure to appear in court and re-offending.)

“NIJ’s experiment showed conclusively that randomly assigned defendants who were placed into supervision had better outcomes than those who were released on financial bonds.

“Other studies have shown the costs of supervised pretrial release averages is less than $10 per day, a fraction of the cost of housing, feeding and medical care required for defendants in local jails.”

Naturally the bail bond industry is less than thrilled at the thought of all that income flying out the door.

In the same article, Dennis Bartlett of the American Bail Coalition explains why he believes the existing bail system is better (so if you click through, read both POVs).

In his testimony before the jails commission, Sheriff Lee Baca—to his credit —brought up pretrial release as part of his hoped for reforms that will lower the jail population and, I think, in general he’s for it, if an adequate tool for assessing who is eligible for PTR and, if so, what form.

Whether he will make it enough of a priority to get it done, remains to be seen.

But the sheriff should be commend for taking some first steps.


Photo by WitnessLA

Posted in jail, LA County Jail, pretrial detention/release, Sheriff Lee Baca | 3 Comments »

If LA Wants to Reform Its Pretrial Detention Strategy, Who Would Stand in the Way? by Matthew Fleischer

May 18th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

***

EDITOR’S NOTE: A few years ago, Florida’s largest counties noticed that the majority of the people crowding their jails
were awaiting trial. The majority of those being detained were not charged with serious offenses, which meant they could have bailed out, but they simply couldn’t afford to do so. So they languished behind bars and the county paid the tab. Facing tight budgets and overcrowded jails, those same Florida counties decided to institute a system of pretrial release for the people who qualified. Now, many California counties are looking at similar strategies, most particularly the state’s largest county, our own Los Angeles.

Of late, Sheriff Baca appears to have grown genuinely serious about pretrial alternatives, especially following the recent release of the report on the matter by prison and jail population expert, James Austin, a report with which the sheriff closely cooperated.

So will it be a go? After all, given our own jail overcrowding and tight budget issues, who would oppose such a plan, especially if it’s worked well in other complicated jurisdictions?

WitnessLA reporter Matt Fleischer has the answer to that very question.

(Oh, and in addition to what Matt tells you, you might want to ask Florida.)



WILL THE BONDSMAN LOBBY TRY TO STOP PRETRIAL RELEASE?

by Matt Fleischer

It’s been more than a year since California Governor Jerry Brown signed the AB 109 prison realignment plan into law, which allows non-violent, non-serious, and non-sex offenders to serve their sentences in county jails instead of state prisons. Since that time, county governments have been struggling to keep up with the overcrowding in their jails caused by the influx of inmates serving their sentences locally. And they aren’t happy about it.

In a budget address this week, Manhattan Beach City Manager Dave Carmany, forced to hire a new jailer due to a rising local inmate population, argued that AB 109 was straining the municipal criminal justice system—especially the jails—and was somehow responsible for a local crime wave. “AB 109 and its effect on sentencing,” he wrote, “has created a sense among criminals that the risk is worth the consequence.”

According to a study released this week by The Center on Juvenile & Criminal Justice, a San Francisco based a criminal justice reform think, however, the problem of jail overcrowding far predates AB 109. According to the report, in 2010, 71 percent of inmates in California’s various county jail systems were not yet convicted of any crime—rather they were charged and are awaiting trial. We’re talking about a population of roughly 50,000 people out of a total jail population of 71,000. Keeping these individuals incarcerated costs taxpayers $100 a day per head. Save the calculator. I’ll do the math for you: that’s $1.85 billion a year.

Obviously, some are dangerous people accused of serious crimes, who can’t be safely released into the public sphere. But plenty are fit for release with a pretrial system of check-ins and electronic monitoring. So why aren’t they being let go? The commercial bail industry and its powerful lobby are the prime roadblock, argues the CJCJ. Simply put, the bail companies don’t want to lose the income that pretrial release would eliminate.

Jails are now more often utilized as a facility to house those awaiting resolution of the charges filed against them, as opposed to sentenced offenders who are serving their time. The commercial bail system has significantly led to this increase of the unsentenced jail population.

Moreover, the commercial bail system has discriminated against poor and middle class defendants and the monetary terms of bail imposed results in racially disparate detention. For instance, Latino and African American defendants are more likely to be held in jail than whites because they cannot afford to post bail. The mortgage crisis has further exacerbated the disparate detention of the poor and people of color. Historically, individuals and families used their homes as collateral to raise funds to pay for bail. Unfortunately, high rates of bankruptcy, foreclosure, and plunging home values in low-income communities mean that fewer people are able to use their homes as collateral to post bond.

The Center on Juvenile & Criminal Justice report isn’t the first to delve into this territory in recent memory. In 2011, the VERA Institute published a report on the pernicious role private bail plays in the LA County Jail system. Among other interesting tidbits, the report noted that in order to ease overcrowding, the LA Sheriff’s Department instituted a minimum bail of $25,000 before they will allow an arrestee to be booked at the Inmate Reception Center. Judges responded by simply raising their bail settings to $25,000—even for nonviolent crimes. Standard bail requested by prosecutors for many low-level felonies like hand-to-hand drug sales, if the accused has priors, is often as high as $250,000

This series of moves virtually guaranteed that poor individuals with no house to put up as bond stayed in jail for months—even years— at a time until their trial date. Although private bail bond companies will post bond, they will only do so for a 10 percent, non-refundable fee up front. If you don’t have the money—and there are plenty of folks out there who don’t have $2,500 cash to spare, much less $25,000–you’re staying in jail.

The Vera report advised that pretrial detention be based on actual risk assessment, rather than an arbitrary bail fee. A year later, with the more recent release of Dr. James Austin’s plan to close Men’s Central Jail, the Sheriff’s Department is taking this idea seriously. Austin identified 1,000 non-violent pretrial inmates who could be released with electronic monitoring. This kind of system costs $2.50 per day instead of $100.

Dale Miller of the California Bail Agents Association, however, counters that electronic monitoring is unreliable.

“In Texas, a recent study showed that close to 70 percent alerts were false alarms. If you get all this noise, how do you know what’s a real violation?”

Miller also argues that the 71 percent pretrial detention figure in California is misleading.

“It’s true that 29 percent in county jails are convicted. But that doesn’t mean 71 percent are pretrial. You got probation and parole violators, ICE holds. These people are counted as pretrial, but a pretrial agency can’t release them.”

Miller says there are better ways to deal with jail overcrowding than unbonded pretrial release. “My issues are that bails tend to be way too high. LA County’s bail schedule is huge. [The bail bond industry] can get people out of custody for much, much smaller amounts of bond, and keep tabs on them without taxpayers footing the bill.”

All that said, the bail bond industry claim they are not actively lobbying against Austin’s plan. Miller was unfamiliar with the specifics of the report, as was Dennis Bartlett of the American Bail Coalition. But, Bartlett told me, “Jim Austin is considered an objective source, whose research I usually trust.”

Bartlett added the caveat, however, that the idea of electronic monitoring without a surety bond is a bad one.

“In the state of Georgia, a GPS monitoring system can only be used in combination with an surety bond. That system seems to work very well. If you’re release people haphazardly, then you’ve got people going everywhere with no one keeping a serious eye on them. I’d have reservations about that.”

However, since “surety bond” is just another fancy way of describing the same pay-for-freedom scheme that got us here in the first place, it isn’t clear what change Bartlett’s strategy would represent.

As of now, the Austin plan does not call for surety bonds to accompany electronic monitoring. If surety bonds suddenly become a sticking point during negotiations with the LA County Board of Supervisors and the CEO, we’ll have a good idea why.


PS: In 2010 NPR’s Laura Sullivan did an excellent 3-part series on the issues surrounding pretrial release and the bail system that’s worth a listen. The last part of the series had to do with the battle over Florida.


***The photo of Dog the Bounty Hunter is courtesy of his fan club site: dogthebountyhunter.com. He is not actually a bail bondsman, yet he’s nevertheless undeniably picturesque and he often works for bail bondsmen retrieving bail jumpers, hence the frail rationale for his visual inclusion here. We have no idea how he stands on pretrial release.

Posted in LA County Jail, pretrial detention/release, Realignment, Sheriff Lee Baca | 8 Comments »

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